Lovelock's death no suicide, claims book

21:38, Feb 17 2009

One of Timaru's most famous sons, Jack Lovelock, did not commit suicide by jumping in front of a train on the New York subway.

A new book by Auckland haematologist Dr Graeme Woodfield claims Lovelock's death was actually accidental, possibly caused by poor eyesight, over-subscribed medicine or even impatience.

The book Jack Lovelock, Athlete and Doctor continues the Kiwi's fascination with the Olympic champion, although it focuses on his non-sporting achievements as a doctor, journalist, soldier and family man.

Woodfield is hoping to dispel the myth Lovelock took his own life and wants it retired permanently.

Three years of thorough research, including visiting England, Lovelock's daughter Mary, and an interesting pilgrimage to the spot at the Church Avenue subway station in New York where the incident happened, helped shape the book.

Woodfield said he initially got interested in the Kiwi icon as both were old boys of Timaru Boys High School and the fact Lovelock was something on an enigma.

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He died in 1949, 13 years after he won the gold medal at the Berlin Olympics, racing to a world-record time in the 1500m in front of Adolf Hitler.

In a chapter called Accident or Suicide? Woodfield writes that Lovelock must have been a "master of disguise" if he was depressed, and thinks his judgment was impaired by the side-effects of a drug he had taken for a flu-like illness, and maybe by dizziness, as he teetered dangerously close to the edge of the subway platform.

"There's no evidence to support suicide. He also had access to drugs, so if he was to do it he could have done it in a far less traumatic way.

"I think Lovelock's wife Cynthia was quite upset that people thought he killed himself. She was actually offended by that."

The fact Lovelock sustained head injuries in 1940 after falling from a horse led to him not being not quite the same person, Woodfield said.

"He had dizziness and other side effects."

Woodfield said it was a moving experience standing in the exact spot Lovelock died.

While a lot has been written on Lovelock's sporting achievements, Woodfield believed he would have also been a huge success in his medical career.

The Timaru Herald